Arsenal closing in on Bayern Munich’s Luiz Gustavo

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Luiz Gustavo was an important piece of depth for last year’s treble winners, but in Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, the Brazilian international didn’t even make the bench for Friday’s opener. Whereas the system Jupp Heynckes used to claim last year’s Champions League used two players at the base of midfield, Guaridola’s only using one. Bastian Schweinsteiger has that spot. Javi Martínez is his understudy. Gustavo can’t break the 18.

That means the 26-year-old needs a new home, lest he wants to spend the lead-up to World Cup 2014 scrounging playing time scraps around the Allianz. Thankfully, Gustavo’s also gotten offers from teams in England, Italy and Russia, with reports claiming Arsenal will try to close the deal this week.

Depending on the price, Gustavo would be a useful acquisition for anybody, his ability to play in midfield or defense giving him the versatility to fill in at a number of spots. If your team plays a typical defensive midfielder, there’s a good chance he’s better than the one you’ve got. For Arsenal, he’d provided some needed reinforcement.

The extent to which you see Arsenal as needing reinforcement probably depends on your view of Alex Song. Arsenal sold their defensive midfielder to Barcelona last summer and didn’t truly replace him. The following season, the Gunners recorded two more points, still finished top four (albeit one spot lower), and allowed 12 fewer goals. Yet missing a  destroyer at the base of midfield, some felt Arsenal lacking.

That’s where Gustavo steps in. He is what’s become a typical Brazilian sitter – a player whose very strong protecting the defense (or, at times, dropping into defense) but doesn’t offer a lot in the build up. He strikes a ball well and can be dangerous running onto a shot, but he’s much more Gilberto Silva than anybody Arsenal used in front of the defense last year.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves on this one. First, he hasn’t been signed, and although the link (above) is from a reputable source, the language is the typical thin, nebulous content that’s regularly churned out by the London media. There’s no mention of potential fee, wages, and there only quote being used (“nothing concrete yet”) is ambiguous. We have to trust the report isn’t coming out of nowhere, but it could be stronger.

Likewise, we shouldn’t just assume Arsenal will move Gustavo into the starting XI. Some feel a prototypical destroyer is obligatory in today’s game, but Arsene Wenger was clearly content mixing a matching his non-defensive midfielders last season. The three central players who ended up with the most appearances were Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, and Jack Wilshire, but even the last two would sometimes find themselves out of the XI if Santi Cazorla was moved in from the winger.

And, as we mentioned, Arsenal’s defense actually improved last season. A lot of that was on the year-over-year improvement was saw from Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, but some of it could have been Arsenal’s improved ability to hold the ball. If that’s Wenger’s view, Gustavo could just be a tool in the box, something to use as the job requires. And it that’s not Wenger’s view, he could still see Arsenal’s back five as sufficient.

Regardless, this is Arsenal, and given how their summer’s progressed, there’s reason to be skeptical that this deal’s as close is being reported. But if Gustavo winds up at The Emirates, he should be a very useful part.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Watford

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  • Chelsea are without N'Golo Kante, Victor Moses (both hamstring) and Danny Drinkwater (calf) is still absent.
  • Watford remain without Younes Kaboul and Sebastian Prodl (both thigh), plus long-term absentees Craig Cathcart, Nathaniel Chalobah and Isaac Success (all knee).
  • Watford have not won against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge since 1986, but the Hornets have won 10 points of a possible 12 on the road. 
  • Chelsea have lost three of their first eight matches this season. No team has ever lost this many of their opening eight matches and still won the Premier League title.

Watford heads south for another London derby with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

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The Hornets have had an amazing start to the season and currently occupy fourth place on 15 points, two points ahead of fifth-place Chelsea, which has lost two-straight Premier League games. The Blues have struggled without N’Golo Kante and Alvaro Morata and there have been reports of grumbles from the squad about dissatisfaction with Antonio Conte‘s training methods, but the Chelsea coach has brushed those rumors off.

Meanwhile Watford is coming off a confidence-boosting win last weekend against fellow Londoners Arsenal, and the club is looking to take down another big club for a second-straight week.

What they’re saying

Watford manager Marco Silva on his team’s start“I want everybody to be really calm. We did really in the first eight matches but it’s too early. We want to continue to work hard every day. Everything changes fast and you need to keep going and treat the next game as the most important. But of course I feel proud.”

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte on being under pressure: “‘Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

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Prediction

Chelsea has its back against the wall but the team’s overall quality should be enough to see them through with all three points against Watford. The Hornets luck runs out in Stamford Bridge as Chelsea hold on for a late win. Chelsea 2-1 Watford

Leicester City record massive earnings from UEFA Champions League

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Leicester City’s UEFA Champions League campaign may have ended without a trophy, but the Premier League side pipped the European champions in the bank account.

UEFA announced on Friday that Leicester City earned $96,167,125 during the Champions League run that ended in the quarterfinals, the farthest of any Premier League club. Real Madrid, the back-to-back champions, earned a slightly less $95,385,679. Much of the difference comes from TV rights deals in England, which pays out more to teams compared to the TV rights deal in Spain.

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Juventus, the Italian giant, earned the most of any club in last year’s Champions League, making a whopping $129,965,357, mostly thanks to the TV rights again.

Mourinho: Ibrahimovic could return in December

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Dare to Zlatan? It could be only a couple of months away.

That’s according to Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, who said the veteran striker could return from his torn ACL before the end of the calendar year.

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“Zlatan is here, he’s working here and under our control,” Mourinho told reporters. “He’s working as you would expect so, so, so hard. But he’s not to be back in the next week or next couple of weeks. Do I believe he’ll be back in 2017? Yes, I do. But it’s just a feeling.”

The big Swede scored 28 goals for Man United last year in all competitions, proving that he’s still got it at the age of 36, but it’s going to be tough for him to find his old form coming off an ACL injury at such an old age. After suffering the injury last April, it’s been a long road to recovery for Ibrahimovic.

However, with the play of Romelu Lukaku up top, Ibrahimovic would only play from time to time, which could help in his recovery both from the knee injury and just the general recovery between games.

Manchester City quartet called up by Brazil for friendlies

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Brazilian National Team coach Tite has decided on calling up a full-strength squad for November’s upcoming friendly matches in Europe, including four Manchester City players in his 25-man squad.

Gabriel Jesus, Fernandinho, Danilo and Ederson all made the squad as Tite looks to develop more chemistry among his side ahead of the 2018 World Cup, which Brazil breezed into after Tite took over in 2016.

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Luckily for Manchester City and the other European-based players in the squad, Brazil’s friendly matches will be played in Western Europe. The Selecao first faces Japan in Lille, France on November 10 before taking on England at Wembley Stadium on November 14.

The call-ups may be a tough pill for Guardiola to swallow though. As of Friday, Manchester City has 17 games remaining in the calendar year, and surely he would prefer for some of his starters to get a two-week break in November to preserve some energy instead of play in friendly matches.